KEY POINTS

  • Kim returned on June 4 after a month-long absence, looking thinner
  • Rumors about his health began in 2014 after he disappeared for six weeks
  • In April 2020, Kim missed the birthday celebrations of his late grandfather

North Korean state media recently acknowledged leader Kim Jong Un’s drastic weight loss and noted that the country’s citizens are “heartbroken” over his changed appearance. 

In a broadcast by state-run Korean Central Television on Friday, the agency acknowledged the thinner appearance of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) leader and included interviews of several locals showing concern for the leader’s health. 

“Seeing our respected comrade General Secretary [Kim Jong Un] become emaciated like that, all the people became so heartbroken,” a middle-aged man said in the eight-minute broadcast, as reported by North Korea News. “Everyone is talking about it. We all just started to cry,” he added.

During the segment, the state-run media also asked several locals their opinions on a variety of topics, including a recent cultural performance that featured new propaganda songs praising Kim and the ruling party. 

“The only person I will follow with passionate devotion is our Marshal [Kim Jong Un],” singer Kim Ok Ju sang, according to the Business Insider

The report came after Kim, who is a chain smoker, returned on June 4 after a month-long absence, looking thinner. While the report did not mention whether the 37-year-old North Korean leader was experiencing any health issues, he has been the subject of health speculation in recent years. 

Rumors about his health began in 2014 after he disappeared from the public eye for six weeks. He later appeared in a documentary limping and walking with a cane. The video was included a crying narrator saying Kim was unwell. 

Rumors intensified in April 2020 after the North Korean leader missed the birthday celebrations of his grandfather, the founding leader of the DPRK. The reasons for his absence were unclear, but some speculated that it may be due to COVID-19. 

“It’s safe to say that his absence yesterday is strange. It clearly goes against North Korea's narrative that it's business as usual,” Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea specialist at King’s College London, told Voice Of America at the time.

Since last year, the reclusive leader has been absent from state media for several extended periods of time.   

Kim is the third generation of his family to rule over North Korea. Kim Jong Il, his father, died in 2011 after suffering from a heart attack.  

The United States held three-way talks with South Korea and Japan on how to handle North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong-Un is seen on a television screen in Seoul in March 2021 The United States held three-way talks with South Korea and Japan on how to handle North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong-Un is seen on a television screen in Seoul in March 2021 Photo: AFP / Jung Yeon-je